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Stepping Out

Soaring above

High-flying spectacle at the Bethpage Air Show


Memorial Day weekend has arrived — and for so many of us it involves the annual trek to Jones Beach to watch the action overhead during the Bethpage Air Show.

For the throngs who attend year after year this spectacular two-day display of flying stunts is beloved tradition not to be missed, This year’s show, on Saturday and Sunday, May 25-26, starting at 10 a.m., is headlined once again by the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds.

The distinguished squadron, is joined by other elite military pilots, including the U.S. Army Golden Knights Parachute Team, back for their 14th appearance, along with the U.S. Navy F-18 Super Hornet.

The Thunderbirds, “America’s Ambassadors in Blue,” demonstrate the extraordinary capabilities of the F-16 Fighting Falcon — the Air Force’s premier multi-role fighter jet. The elite military pilots proudly showcase the capabilities of the $18 million, 19,700-pound fighter aircraft, which can travel at speeds up to 1,500 mph.

As the jets take to the skies and fly only a few feet from wingtip to wingtip, the crowd gets a glimpse of the superb skills and capabilities that all fighter pilots must possess.

This year female pilots get their chance to shine.

For the first time, four female pilots will be featured in the show, including U.S. Air Force Thunderbird Captain Michelle Curran, an experienced fighter pilot who flies aircraft #6 as the team’s Opposing Solo. Joining Captain Curran is #10 Captain Lauren Venturini, an executive officer on the team, and #11 Captain Kassandra Mangosing, the team’s maintenance officer.

Esteemed aviatrix Jessy Panzer, one of the world’s leading female aerobatic pilots, also makes her air show debut this year here, joining the legendary Sean Tucker who retired his solo performance last year. Panzer will fly the Oracle Extra 300L alongside Sean D. Tucker’s Oracle Challenger III.

“It’s an honor to fly aerobatics and I am so humbled to fly alongside and under the mentorship of Sean Tucker,” says Panzer, 39, an accomplished corporate pilot who has also served as contracted flight instructor for the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo. “He’s been an inspiration to me ever since I began my career.”

Reverent, precise and passionate; for Panzer flying power aerobatics excites the senses, engages the mind and empowers audiences to challenge what they believe possible.

“I want to inspire people to be the best at what they can do in their life. If people can see that I can do it, then they can accomplish their goals. I want fans to believe in themselves and realize that little decisions they make every day about what to do and what not to do impact how they pursue their passion. I want to give people inspiration to make choices, do those things and have the confidence.”

Other renowned civilian performers include aerobatic pilot Matt Chapman, John Klatt Airshows’ Jack Links’ Screamin’ Sasquatch Jet Waco Aerobatic Team; the always popular GEICO Skytypers, with their flight squadron of six vintage aircraft; the American Airpower Museum Warbirds; David Windmiller, acclaimed for his daredevil stunts; the B17 Yankee Lady; the Red Bull Aerobatic Helicopter and Red Bull Air Force, along with the SUNY Farmingdale State College Flying Rams, who will fly seven of their 22 college-owned aircraft in a fly-by piloted by their top academic professional pilot performers.

The GEICO Skytypers, remain an air show favorite, combining the best of the old and new. The Skytypers use six of the remaining 11 World War II-era NA SNJ planes left in the world, meticulously restored with the latest technology.

“These were Navy scout planes used on missions in World War II and the Korean War,” explains Larry Arken, the Skytypers’ commanding officer and flight leader. “We’ve modernized them and give them plenty of TLC. We have to take care of our warbirds.”

The Farmingdale-based GEICO-sponsored team is, of course, a familiar sight along beaches in the northeast with their skytyped messages generated at an altitude of 10,000 feet with puffs of smoke in dot matrix-style letters.

This weekend it’s the plane’s flying maneuvers that command attention. “Our planes, being older, are slower; we like to keep in front of our spectators’ faces for maximum impact,” Arken says. “We’re known for our precision skills, which keep everyone excited. We’re always improving our planes and refining our routine. It’s demanding flying, executed by highly skilled professionals.”

The team is close-knit group of eight rotating pilots, with decades of military and professional experience. “I like to say once you check in you never check out. The comraderie of our team and our cohesiveness is what makes us special.”

“Jones Beach is always near and dear to me, because most of us live on Long Island. It’s like a homecoming show for us. For many of our friends, it’s the only time they get to see us [perform]. We are always excited to be here and put a smile on people’s faces.”

“Be sure to come out to Jones Beach over the weekend,” Arken says. “It’s a great venue and a great family day. “All the performers are great; it’s a great event. And it’s wonderful for kids to get inspired to explore a career in aviation based on what they see during the show.”

For up-to-date information, visit www.bethpageairshow.com.